TER Volume 14, Number 1, June 2007: Review of del.icio.us Mashups

Technology Electronic Reviews
Volume 14, Number 1, June 2007

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REVIEW OF: Brett O’Connor. (2007). del.icio.us Mashups. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Publishing, Inc. (ISBN: 0470097760 ; 9780470097762). 381 pp. $29.99.

By William G. LeFurgy

Mashups -- combining applications and data to make something new -- are currently at the forefront of innovation on the World Wide Web. Mashing is an expression of the Web 2.0 intent to give users more control over how content is described, accessed, manipulated, and displayed.

In response to enthusiasm for Web 2.0 ideas, Internet content providers now often make their data available for creative remixing. The results can be novel and compelling. By combining, for example, data from an online mapping service with data from an online real estate site, it is possible to generate a geographic representation of houses for sale (or apartments for rent) for a city or a neighborhood. It is also possible, through LibraryThing.com, to draw on worldwide bibliographic resources to catalog a personal book collection. While there are many pre-programmed mashups ready for use on the web, the concept practically begs for users to get involved themselves and "roll their own" to meet specific needs.

The del.icio.us web site was one of the first examples of Web 2.0 in action. In allowing users to store, describe, and use web bookmarks, del.icio.us does three things especially well. First, it permits complete flexibility in assignment of descriptor tags to bookmarks. Second, it connects a user’s tags and bookmarks with those of other users to enable a massive social network, which lets each user learn what others with similar interests also like. And third, del.icio.us is highly mash-able.

Brett O’Connor is a knowledgeable web developer who understands the allure of the mashup. He writes effectively for both the novice and the more experienced user, and frequently encourages the reader to use the book as a starting point for more experimentation. And while the book is essentially a technical manual chock full of computer terms and concepts, O’Conner does a worthy job of keeping the narrative flowing smoothly. His style is comfortably informal and keeps the inexperienced user out of overly-technical thickets. More advanced developers will find much of the book less useful, although its discussion of the del.icio.us API (Application Programming Interface) is thorough and broadly useful. Instructions for both the Windows XP and Mac OS X operating systems are included.

The book is effectively organized into five sections. The first section is a flyover of del.icio.us, including brief mentions of other web content that can be mashed, including that from Flickr and Amazon. Section two deals with some of the basic tools and services needed to construct mashups. Section three and four are guides to constructing several mashup projects involving del.icio.us. A summary of del.icio.us mashups created by professional developers is covered in section five.

From a library perspective, del.icio.us Mashups offers important insights. It outlines what del.icio.us is and how it works. Now, it is possible to see del.icio.us (and other similar services) as turning traditional library cataloging on its head. Rather than having trained experts following sophisticated rules to compile definitive bibliographic metadata, the process is turned over in a casual way to anyone who wants to do it. But it is also possible to see this trend as a help in bringing improved order to the vast mass of web content, which continues to grow ever larger. As the book describes, del.icio.us is a powerful tool for helping users navigate among web sites -- and also for helping them find new information. The book also serves as a primer for a variety of Web 2.0 tools, such as RSS (Really Simple Syndication); JavaScript; AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML); and Greasemonkey. A moderately serious web user without much development experience will find this discussion enlightening and relatively painless. But the most significant insight that del.icio.us Mashups addresses is the practical mechanics of mashing.

The book does quite well describing how to apply a variety of tools and services to construct mashups. Many of these tools and services are "hidden" from plain view but O’Connor provides lucid directions about how to access them. He also outlines terms of use that service owners impose. The book is clear and well organized as is moves from relatively simple to more complex mashup designs. Readers are guided from basic concepts, to specific tools, to application of the tools through hands-on exercises, most of which involve manipulation of del.icio.us data using the tools noted above. None of the exercises are especially difficult for readers with a basic familiarity with the modern web, although the less experienced will move much more slowly from chapter to chapter.

Where the book shines is its detailed understanding about how users can tap into the inner workings of del.icio.us. O’Conner has a good grasp of its technology underpinnings, as well as of how different kinds of projects can benefit from manipulating its data. He does well in pointing out uses that should -- and should not -- involve direct interaction with the del.icio.us API. This is helpful, because while the API offers rich opportunities, it is possible to achieve similar results for some objectives by other, simpler, means. Use of the API is, as O’Conner points out, a right not a privilege: inappropriate use can lead to being locked out.

This book is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in exploring del.icio.us through mashups. The reader will be able to start mashing right away and will develop skills to explore more advanced projects.

William G. LeFurgy ( wlef@loc.gov ) is a Digital Initiatives Project Manager in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Copyright © 2007 by William G. LeFurgy. This document may be reproduced in whole or in part for noncommercial, educational, or scientific purposes, provided that the preceding copyright statement and source are clearly acknowledged. All other rights are reserved. For permission to reproduce or adapt this document or any part of it for commercial distribution, address requests to the author.

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